Brent Forrest is a working VFX Artist (Sonic, The Hedgehog) who also makes tools for other artists. He has just released his ShapeMeshing library (and what wasn’t already free to download is 50% off until the 17th of Dec.). He lives and works in Japan but he is originally from Canada. Born in Montreal, Forrest started his animation career at Red Rover studios in Toronto as a co-op student in 1999. There he learned the craft of animation. He has won awards for both his animation and special effects work including a Gemini nomination for title design. Today he works as a Technical Director in one of Tokyo’s top animation studios.
ShapeMeshing like any mesh-based asset generation system can produce alembic files which are then useable in Unreal as well as Unity. “Cross-platform compatibility is the name of the game so everything that makes up the system uses standard out-of-the-box Maya nodes,” he explained. All the animation is stored in one file, and they are lightweight and suitable for real-time applications or standard linear storytelling. The rigs animate automatically and have animator friendly controls.
In addition to the Water simulations, there is a full range of fire, explosions, and other complex effects. The simulations are based on a series of drawings which are all then converted to 3D with Forrest’s Shapemeshing approach. Unlike a particle-based approach, the hand-drawn look has proven popular and efficient as the pre-rigged effects do not require hand sculpting every frame to still produce a very natural look.
The process started in Flash and the 2D artists’ hand curve animations were exported in Illustrator format to Maya. In Maya the curves are worked into deformed meshes. These are then run through proprietary custom deformers,and/ or hand-sculpted, to give the organic look, as required.
Like and Follow.
He is also financing his first feature-length film based on his Best of Annecy-Kids short called Like and Follow. The short film features ShapeMeshing and sales from the shop all go towards making the new feature film. “Our short film did well in the festival circuit and now in response to the unexpected support from studios and distributors, I’ve taken it upon myself to turn it into a feature film,” he explained. Although the artist admits that building the financial structure for a feature, “even a small budget one like ours is a complex and iterative process, and the success of the store is a part of our plan”.
The short film and the planned feature come from his production company Forrest-Schlage, which he formed with co-director Tobias Schlage. His film directing partner is a German born character animator and 3D generalist who also moved to Japan in 2015.
He has also just packaged his largest asset pack which is “my much-requested water pack. Doing effective water elements in 3D was the impetus behind designing the whole pipeline, as I was never happy with the existing real-time solutions for water – and simulations are costly and heavy”. The ‘Mega Water’ pack is essentially everything one might need for water effects, with the exception of an ocean surface, which is planned for 2021. All the water effects are hand-designed assets, and all lightweight.
“The response to the assets has been overwhelmingly positive,” Forrest commented. “The best thing I’ve seen is that a user will download one asset and then come back and download five more. The repeat business leads me to believe that the customers are happy with the products. I’ve had a few bug and feature reports which I’ve responded to and that helps raise the quality of the assets, but the number one request I’ve gotten is for tutorials!” Forrest aims to do tutorials but with his new young family and work commitments, time is short, and then again there is that feature film to work on.
fxguide has no financial interest in ShapeMeshing or was remunerated for this story in any way.